Even though Hurricane Matthew forced an evacuation order for greater Beaufort County and parts of Jasper County Wednesday afternoon, Beaufort County emergency officials said this week they know everyone won’t leave.
And while the evacuation is characterized as mandatory, officers aren’t going to knock on doors and force people out, a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.
But those who choose to stay are on their own, county emergency officials cautioned.
“We’re obviously interested in the safety of people here and getting them to evacuate,” Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bob Bromage said.
During the worst of the storm, first responders might not be able to immediately reach those who choose to stay, Beaufort County Emergency Management Division commander Lt. Col. Neil Baxley said. Calls to 911 will be answered as long as phone systems are operational, and names and addresses will be placed in a queue.
“A tree comes down across your house, you are trapped there and the major hurricane-force winds are blowing across Beaufort County, we’re not coming until the wind subsides,” Baxley said. “Because it’s just as dangerous to us.
We’re not immune to those injuries; we’re not immune to trees falling on patrol cars or ambulances.”
Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday those who defy the evacuation order put at risk the lives of National Guardsman and law enforcement. Those who lack transportation could ride Palmetto Breeze buses beginning at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
After 3 p.m., drivers will no longer have the option of how to leave the area. They must follow law enforcement directions at traffic checkpoints along the way.
People who don’t leave should still be able to travel locally, depending on conditions, Bromage said. He reiterated that everyone should evacuate.
Baxley said Beaufort County learned during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 that traffic during an evacuation will be excruciatingly slow.
“We’ve worked hard to improve (the process), but our population has doubled since 1999 and we haven’t added any more roads,” he said. “We’ve widened a couple of them locally, but as they go farther inland, it’s the same two-lane road we dealt with in 1999.
“So it’s going to be slow.”